Five Ways to Make Your Technical Presentations Awesome
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” — Benjamin Franklin
I can count on one hand the best presentations I have ever experienced, the most recent being my university dynamics lecturer bringing out his electric guitar at the end of term to demonstrate sound waves; a pharmaceutical CEO giving an impassioned after-dinner oration about how his love of music influenced his business decisions; and last but not least, my award-winning attempt at explaining quantum entanglement using a marble run and a cardboard box (I won a bottle of wine).
It’s perhaps equally easy to recall all the worst presentations I’ve experienced as well—for example, too many PowerPoint presentations crammed full of more bullet points than a shooting target; infinitesimally small text that only Superman’s telescopic vision could handle; presenters intent on slowly reading every word that they’ve squeezed onto a screen and thoroughly missing the point of a presentation: that of succinctly communicating interesting ideas to an audience.
It is no secret that when it comes to presentations, less is definitely more. A picture may be worth a thousand words, a meme worth a thousand likes, but as much as a technical presenter wants to fill a presentation full of cute pictures, the key point is to communicate their results, findings, explorations, experiments and data in a clear, succinct and beautiful way.
As someone who uses Wolfram Notebooks for everything from a notepad to a word processing document, a coding scratchpad and as a complete computational narrative, I am so excited that it is now possible to present live, interactive technical presentations directly from notebooks.
So What Is Presenter Tools?
As announced this week, Wolfram Presenter Tools is the first responsive technical presentation platform incorporating dynamic interactivity and live computation into the environment.
What Does This Mean?
You can now change your parameters on the fly, use interactive manipulates to cleanly demonstrate complex ideas, pull real-time data from live feeds and use multimedia to include your audience in your presentation.
This comes with everything you’d expect from a presentation environment: live-time presenter notes and navigation controls, a comprehensive quick-editing toolbar, the ability to position your text, images and interactives within your slides and auto-resizing to any resolution or screen size.
But the Best Part…?
Creating presentations can be automatic from your existing notebooks. You can use the work you’ve already done, the notebooks you’ve already written, the results you’ve already generated, the functions and manipulates already in your reports, and present them immediately. This is the prime-time, go-to technical presenting tool. Take your technical work and present it now.
So How Does This Help Me?
Could Presenter Tools be the electric guitar of your presentation? Of course it can. Let’s revisit Benjamin Franklin:
- You can tell someone what a static chart of your data means—and they’ll forget.
- You can teach someone how your data produced the results you concluded—and they may remember.
- Or you can involve someone in your presentation and let them directly interact with your results.
Therein lies the key to unforgettable, impressive and interactive presentations.
Here Are My Go-To Top Five Presentation Tips…
1) Keep it simple
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” — Feynstein
Whether it was Albert Einstein or Richard Feynman who said it (there is a fair amount of debate), the sentiment holds true. If you are the expert, it’s very likely that your audience doesn’t have the same grasp of the material that you do. If you’ve been working on your findings for days, weeks, months, bring people on that journey with you and keep it light.
Using cell hierarchies, keep your titles and subsections distinct. Distill your thoughts into clear sections and hide the bits that go on a tangent!
2) Keep it short
“Make sure you have finished speaking before your audience has finished listening.” — Dorothy Sarnoff
We’ve all been on the other side of those presentations that go on and on. Don’t be that person. Make your case clearly and quickly.
Use direct, interactive plots to get your results across, no image duplication required. Demonstrate to them exactly how your data behaves—don’t snapshot it.
3) Keep it on point
“If you can’t state your position in eight words, you don’t have a position.” — Seth Godin
Decide what you want to get across to your audience. What are your top three points? What is your takeaway message?
Going to forget something important? Keep presenter notes on the side to keep you on track.
“All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
The more you’re prepared, the calmer you’ll be and the better you’ll communicate your points. Choose your best examples and talk them through. Find out what works and what doesn’t: iterate, evaluate.
With livecoding, you can make up coding examples on the go. Or if you’d like things to be “safer,” keep tried and trusted examples in your presenter notes palette on the side to insert and evaluate during your talk. It’ll appear spontaneous, but you have the dependable certainty that it’ll run.
5) Be you!
“I didn’t lie. I was writing fiction in my mouth.” — Homer Simpson
If you want to make your mark, be distinctive. If you want to be the person who has a picture of a sheep on each slide, do it. If you want rainbow colors, do it. When you feel comfortable and confident presenting, you’ll be a better presenter. Let your voice come across and people will remember you and your work.
With customizable themes, Presenter Tools allows you to choose the fonts and colors that you want to use, and automatically updates cell styles accordingly. Add images to your heart’s content, and make your presentations your own!
Thank you for the great quotes :)
What’s your thought on Prezi presentations? We’ve used it in our company presentations but honestly, I think it takes up too much of the viewer’s concentration. The focus changes from the content to visual elements in my opinion. Isn’t PowerPoint still the number one presentation tool no matter how “boring” it is to some people?
Hi Peter. I agree with your sentiments. Prezi and others are focussed on slick slide transitions in order to keep audiences entertained. I would agree that focus is often distracted away from the content of the presentation. PowerPoint certainly has its merits – but neither system provides a robust solution for technical presentations including code, technical typesetting, and output images and graphics. While PowerPoint has become the benchmark for slide presentation, there hasn’t really been a system that has been optimized to present data, results and technical content, until Presenter Tools. With both PowerPoint and Prezi also, interacting with the presentation while presenting isn’t possible, whereas live-coding and evaluating prebuilt code examples are key features of Presenter Tools. We want audiences to be focussed on the clarity of the content, and being able to interactively demonstrate how a technical idea works. It is very neat also to be able to take all of your existing notebooks and present them directly – no copying and pasting into PowerPoint necessary!